The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning, and Love

The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning, and Love

The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning, and Love

The Variety of Values: Essays on Morality, Meaning, and Love

Synopsis

For over thirty years Susan Wolf has been writing about moral and nonmoral values and the relation between them. This volume collects Wolf's most important essays on the topics of morality, love, and meaning, ranging from her classic essay "Moral Saints" to her most recent "The Importance of Love." Wolf's essays warn us against the common tendency to classify values in terms of a dichotomy that contrasts the personal, self-interested, or egoistic with the impersonal, altruistic or moral. On Wolf's view, this tendency ignores or distorts the significance of such values as love, beauty, and truth, and neglects the importance of meaningfulness as a dimension of the good life. These essays show us how a self-conscious recognition of the variety of values leads to new understandings of the point, the content, and the limits of morality and to new ways of thinking about happiness and well-being.

Excerpt

This collection of essays is planned as the first of two volumes. The present collection chiefly concerns moral and nonmoral values and the relation between them; the second volume, projected to appear sometime within the next year, focuses more on questions of free will, responsibility, objectivity, and a variety of topics in moral psychology. Given the way I approach these topics, however, the categories overlap and blur. Taken together, these volumes will contain most of the philosophical ideas I have thought it worthwhile to put into writing in the course of my philosophical career. Reviewing them, both for the sake of organizing them in an intellectually sensible way and in order better to write introductions to the volumes, has been a humbling experience.

Specifically, I am struck by how closely related these essays are to each other. The same themes—one might say, the same obsessions—come up over and over again. Even though, as I write each essay, I think I am taking up a new question, offering new arguments, even embarking on a topic different from any that I have written about before, when I review and consider them together, I wonder whether I have had a single new idea in the last thirty-five years. Oh, well. I suppose there is something to be said for having a coherent philosophical vision, and elaborating it, or pieces of it, from different perspectives and in relation to different questions and alternatives, a little at a time.

Although the essays are arranged thematically rather than chronologically, the first essay is also the earliest and, for better or worse, it contains the seeds of most of the ideas that I articulate or explore in the others. It arose, as readers might surmise, out of reflections about my ambivalent reactions to friends who, I realized . . .

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